Alumni Book Club makes virtual debut

Sept. 11, 2019 — Grinnellians love debate and discussion, not to mention a good book.

Many alumni have fond memories of late-night, deep conversations exploring literature, politics, art, and social justice. With the recent launch of the Grinnell College Alumni Book Club, Grinnellians from across the globe will be able to recreate that discourse, albeit virtually.

Cover for the book:  The Book of Unknown Americans: by Cristina Henríquez
   The Book of Unknown Americans

Every two months a book will be chosen for discussion, and via message boards and a professional moderator – who will post author interviews, book reviews, Ted Talks, and questions – book club members can chat and share their thoughts.

Alumni Book Club officially kicked off on Sept. 9, though alums already were posting their opinions on a range of literary topics even before then.

The club’s first book is The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. The same book also is being discussed by first-year students for this year’s Common Read.

Common Read is a program where every first-year student is invited to read the same book over the summer. Throughout the fall semester, the book is discussed and dissected during scholars’ convocations, book club get-togethers, and other talks. It’s a program, explains Vrinda Varia, Grinnell’s director of intercultural affairs, “that creates a sense of belonging on campus and allows students from diverse backgrounds to engage with one another and community members over topics such as social justice, diversity, inclusion and identity.”

The tie-in with the Common Read is a great opportunity for alumni to know what students are doing and experiencing, says Sarah Smith-Benanti, assistant director of alumni and donor relations for diverse communities.

Panelists discuss the Common Read selection, The Book of Unknown Americans.
A panel discussion Aug. 29 kicked off the Common Read first-year student events.

Smith-Benanti, who is coordinating Alumni Book Club, explains that the idea for the club came about because the Grinnell College Alumni Council frequently talks about a commitment to lifelong learning.

“The virtual book club seems like a really cool way to engage folks who might not be able to come to Grinnell for events, as well as connect alumni from across the world,” she says. In the week it was announced, more than 550 alumni signed up to join. “I was aiming at 300,” says Smith-Benanti. “Grinnellians are super-excited about it.” Members span classes from the 1950s to new graduates who fondly remember their Common Read experience. The Pioneer Bookshop offers the book for sale or book club members can pick up copies at their local libraries or bookstores, or from online booksellers.

Alumni also are encouraged to create their own local events around whatever book is featured.

“We can see some fun meet-ups happening, even when there are only a handful of alumni in a particular city,” Smith-Benanti says. “We’re willing and able to facilitate whatever get together happens. That’s the interesting thing about both the Common Read and the Alumni Book Club – you know you can start a conversation based on this book, and we’re open to creating that virtually and in person, whether it’s on campus or at regional events.”

—by Anne Stein '84

For your information:

For additional information and to sign up for the Grinnell College Alumni Book Club, visit the Book Club webpage.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.